- Less than a week after President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, the US is facing a mess largely of its own creation.
- The strike, which took place in Baghdad, has united Iraqis and Iranians against the US.
- Meanwhile, Trump is virtually friendless on the global stage.
- And though Trump pledged to pull the US out of the Middle East and end “stupid endless wars,” the US is now sending thousands more troops to the region.
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In the four days since President Donald Trump ordered a strike that killed Iran’s most important military leader, the provocative move has created a huge mess for American interests, with Iran vowing reprisals and leaving the nuclear deal as more US troops head to the tense region.
Trump, who took a break from golfing at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to order the deadly strike on Thursday, said it was meant to “stop a war.” But fears of a new conflict have only increased in the days since, as Iran has vowed to avenge the death of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
The strike has seemingly pushed Iraq into the arms of Iran — and after months of Iraqis protesting Tehran’s overwhelming influence in their country’s internal affairs, the Soleimani strike has seen anti-Iran demonstrations morph into anti-American fervor.
Iraq is turning against the US
Over the weekend, thousands of Iraqis mourned Soleimani’s death, and the Iraqi Parliament voted to expel US forces from the country. (There are roughly 5,200 US troops in Iraq.) This prompted Trump to threaten Iraq with sanctions harsher than those the US has imposed on Iran.
“If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever,” Trump said on Sunday. “It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”
He added: “If there’s any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq.”
The US forces in Iraq were there to prevent ISIS from making a comeback, but US military officials on Sunday announced that anti-ISIS operations were suspended amid the escalating tensions following Soleimani’s killing. The officials cited attacks on Iraqi and US bases over the past two months.
“This has limited our capacity to conduct training with partners and to support their operations,” a statement from Operation Inherent Resolve said, adding, “We have therefore paused these activities.”
On top of this, Iran on Sunday said it would no longer comply with the restrictions on its nuclear program under the 2015 deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The deal had been crumbling since Trump withdrew the US from it in May 2018, but other signatories, including key US allies, had been working to salvage it. Iran might have just put the final nail in the coffin, and this move could be perceived as a step toward obtaining a nuclear weapon.
On Monday, reports surfaced suggesting the US might soon begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, but Defense Secretary Mark Esper disputed this.
Trump is virtually friendless amid the tensions with Iran
Trump also made comments on Saturday that seemed to unnerve top US allies. In threats aimed at Iran, the president said that if any Americans or “American assets” were hit, then the US would strike 52 targets, some of which were “Iranian culture” sites.
“They’re allowed to kill our people,” Trump told reporters. “They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people, and we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Trump that any attempt to target Iranian cultural sites would be a breach of international law.
“There are international conventions in place that prevent the destruction of cultural heritage,” a representative for Johnson said on Monday.
“You can read the international conventions for themselves,” the representative added. “It is the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict.”
Trump has made a habit of pushing leaders of traditional US allies away, but Johnson has been among the few he’s remained on good terms with.
Indeed, the president appears to be virtually friendless on the global stage, with only Israel coming out in full support of the deadly strike on Soleimani.
As he spoke with Fox News on Friday about Soleimani’s killing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Frankly, the Europeans haven’t been as helpful as I wish that they could be.”
He added: “The Brits, the French, the Germans all need to understand that what we did, what the Americans did, saved lives in Europe as well.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday said the alliance stood behind the US, but he stopped short of endorsing the strike that killed Soleimani.
Stoltenberg also refused to offer a clear answer on whether the alliance would come to the US’s defense under its mutual-defense clause if it were attacked by Iran. When asked about it at a press conference in Brussels on Monday, Stoltenberg said that commenting on the matter would “not help to de-escalate,” Bloomberg reported.
The US is sending more troops to the Middle East, and Iran is united against it
Though Trump said as recently as October that he would pull the US out of “stupid endless wars,” the US in recent days announced that it would send an additional 3,500 troops to the Middle East amid the heightened tensions with Iran.
“The brigade will deploy to Kuwait as an appropriate and precautionary action in response to increased threat levels against US personnel and facilities, and will assist in reconstituting the reserve,” a Defense Department representative said in a statement, per ABC News.
Iran had also been experiencing internal unrest in recent months linked to its struggling economy, in some cases resulting in the government killing demonstrators in the streets in what has been called the worst rioting since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. But Soleimani’s death seems to have united the country in grief and in anger toward the US and Trump, with massive crowds paying their respects to the slain general on Monday.
—Ali Hashem علي هاشم (@alihashem_tv) January 5, 2020
According to The New York Times, the sea of people chanted “death to America,” the anti-US-government refrain that dates back to the Islamic Revolution.
All the while, the Trump administration has not given a clear answer on the precise nature of the “imminent attack” it said was prevented by assassinating Soleimani, prompting uproar among Democrats in Congress and calls to limit the president’s war powers.